Indoor Eden: Preparing & Chilling Bulbs For a Glorious Mid-Winter Display …

November 5th, 2011 Comments Off

Last Winter’s Forced Narcissus by the Front Door in February

My friend Eve recently said that autumn always makes her think of spring. I couldn’t agree with her more, and as I squirrel away hoards of daffodil, tulip, and hyacinth bulbs, my mind drifts to the scents, sights and sounds of late April and May. Winter is a long season here in the northeast, and come late February and March —when the grey days outnumber the blue— I know I’ll be longing for soft, damp earth on my fingertips and the fragrance of fresh flowers. So while planting spring-flowering bulbs outside in the garden, I always pot up a few dozen favorites —and begin chilling them early— for forcing indoors.

Though Most of My Bulbs are Planted Outdoors in Autumn, I Always Save Some for Forcing Indoors …

Click Here for Instructions on How to Force Narcissus in Decorative Stone

Pre-chilled, fragrant bulbs make wonderful holiday gifts —and this project is particularly fun to share with children— but you’ll need to start right away. Most spring flowering bulbs need at least 6 weeks of cold (10 or more is ideal for tulips, crocus, snowdrops and hyacinth). I like to force most bulbs in lightweight, recycled plastic pots with fast-draining potting soil (some bulbs can be forced in decorative stone or glass, click here for tutorial). When planting, you can combine bulbs with similar bloom times together, or plant one kind in each container and arrange them in combinations later. Once I settle the bulbs into their pots, I moisten the soil, cover the top with black plastic (secured with rubber band) and place them in my garden shed (protect bulbs from mice with wire mesh/cages if rodents invade your shed in winter). Any cold, dark place will work —under a deck, in a garage, cellar bulkhead, etc— the key is to keep the temperature below 40 degrees fahrenheit. If you have extra space in a spare refrigerator, you can chill bulbs in there as well. In order for the bulbs to develop roots, it’s important to keep them cold, dark and moist (but not soggy). I like to check on progress every week or so. Once the chilling period has passed, I uncover a few plastic pots each month, water them well and slip them inside decorative containers or baskets. I use polished stones, dried moss, grass or other attractive mulch to hide the top of the plastic pot and conserve moisture. Then, I set the containers out in a cool, bright room to enjoy the show. I always enjoy them on the dining table and by the front entry door. It’s so lovely to watch the green leaves unfold and delicate petals open. Click here for my previous post on forcing narcissus for further instructions and ideas; including how to force bulbs in polished stone.

A Pre-Planned Prelude to Spring!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Blushing Autumn Blossoms …

October 23rd, 2011 Comments Off

Blossoms to Spare & Share: One of the Gardener’s Greatest Rewards (Sprigs of Eucalyptus cinerea & Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ with Autumn Blush)

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Gathering Bouquets Between Raindrops & Simple Tips for Fresh Cut Flower Care

June 12th, 2011 § 7

Peony blossoms are of course my favorite cut flower, and by growing many cultivars, it’s possible to extend the flowering season for a month or more

After two days of steady rain, I slipped outside this morning to wander around the garden between raindrops and gather fallen flowers for fresh bouquets. Poetic as drooping blossoms look when tumbling from perennial borders, I can’t imagine leaving them on the lawn to be devoured by snails. Oh no. In fact, the main reason I grow peonies is for cutting, and I’ve planted many other perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs with fresh flowers for bouquets in mind. False indigo (Baptisia australis), iris, columbine (Aquilegia), fox glove (Digitalis), old-fashioned roses and  poppies (Papavar orientale), are some late spring favorites for the vase. I love all colors, but I am particularly fond of deep violet, blue and cerise colored blossoms. I also cut foliage for flower arrangements, including entire branches from shrubs and trees. Of course fragrance trumps almost all other considerations when it comes to fresh cut flowers, so lilac (Syringa), fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis), roses, lily of the valley (Convularia majalis) and of course peonies, will always be planted in excess throughout my garden…

My studio desk with blue, false indigo (Baptisia australis) cut fresh from the garden

Whenever I see tiny bud vases at flea markets, I snap them up. I also use old spice jars, recycled perfume bottles and salvaged medicine bottles for tiny bouquets

Peonies are, of course, kept as close to nose-level as possible. With blossoms as pretty as these, it seems like gilding the lily to add anything extra to the simple blue-green, glass canning jar

Simple Tips for Fresh Cut Flower Care

Cut flowers when it’s cool in the garden. Morning or evening.

Use sharp, clean pruners or shears.

Carry a bucket with you while cutting and place flowers in tepid water.

Cut flowers in bud or just as they are beginning to open.

Cut stems long, but take care to remember the rules of pruning; particularly when cutting roses, lilacs & other shrubs (revisit this basic pruning post).

Strip off lower foliage and side branches as you go (anything below the waterline of the intended vase).

Sear sappy/milky stems with a flame or boiling water (poppies, hollyhocks, etc).

Hammer the bottom and strip bark from woody stems.

Arrange flowers in a clean vase, filled with tepid water.

Add a tiny bit of sugar and a few drops of bleach (hydrogen peroxide based is fine) to the vase when you arrange flowers.

Check and change the water in vases every other day.

A combination I love: Blue Siberian Iris with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ (read more about Physocarpus opulifolius here)

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’, and the branches of many other flowering shrubs are beautiful in arrangements

Beautiful Baptisia australis looks gorgeous atop a dark dresser or dining table

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’ produces lovely cerise blossoms on strong branches (read more about this beautiful, tough shrub here)

Words & Photographs ⓒ Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reposted, reproduced or reused in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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A Visual Feast: Beautiful, Edible Flowers

May 23rd, 2011 § 1

Pansies (Viola × wittrockiana) are lovely atop cakes, in salads and especially when floating in cocktails…

Or Cocktails, Like this Sunset Mangotini (click here for recipe)

(Viola × wittrockiana ‘Matrix Purple’)

Candied rose petals, lavender ice cream, hibiscus tea, chocolate cupcakes laced with violets; some flowers are more than a visual feast, they’re actually good enough to eat. It’s fun to decorate food with colorful blossoms, and it always feels a bit naughty too —eating something so pretty— when I pull the tiny flowers off a slice of cake and gobble them down. “Don’t eat the daisies“, they say… But that’s part of the fun, now isn’t it?

I grow flowers in my potager for a wide variety of reasons —to support pollinators, provide fresh bouquets for the table, and add beauty to the vegetable patch— but one of the best reasons to grow flowers in the kitchen garden, is to eat them! I enjoy spicy nasturtium and chive blossoms in salads, scarlet runner bean and rosemary flowers in soup, and many other blooming beauties as both ingredient and garnish to dishes from spring to fall…

Bright Orange Calendula Brightens this Garlic Scape Pesto (click here for recipe)

Nasturtiums Add Bold Color and Spicy Flavor to Salads

Fresh From the Potager: Nasturtium, Lettuce and Radishes Make a Colorful Salad with Zing

Never tried eating a flower? Think again. Broccoli and cauliflower are two of the most popular edible buds! Some other, commonly consumed edible flowers include nasturtium, dandelion, violets and pansies, geranium (Pelargonium spp), daylily, squash blossoms, calendula, chamomile, lavender, chive, mint, sage blossoms and of course rose petals. But many other flowers can be grown and used in a wide variety of dishes. Try citrusy bee balm (Monarda didyma), fruity red bud (Cercis canadensis) and apple blossoms, spicy anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), fresh red clover and scarlet runner beans.

Thinking of adding a row of potager posies to your backyard garden? If you’ve never grown edible flowers before, I’d recommend stopping at an organic nursery or farm stand in your area to shop for plants. Do a bit of research before you collect your six packs and ask a knowledgable staff member at your local garden center for a bit of guidance. Two of my favorite edible flower gardening resources in print —by Cathy Wilkinson Barash and Rosalind Creasy— are listed below. Both books contain great cultural and culinary information; including recipes and tips for storage!

Edible Flowers: Desserts & Drinks by Cathy Wilkinson Barash

The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy

And although it should be common sense, I must emphasize that not all blossoms and buds should be consumed. In fact, some flowers —and many berries, leaves, roots and sometimes entire plants— are quite toxic. So, never eat a flower or any plant unless you can positively identify —with 100% certainty— that it’s safe for human consumption. If you have very small children frequenting your garden, or as members of your family or household, never grow anything toxic in your potager. In fact, I recommend  that all gardening adults keep a copy of the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants in an easy to locate place. If you are growing your own food, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with both edible and inedible plants, and it’s never wise to grow anything poisonous around small children.

The Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants

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Everlasting Beauty: Displaying Dreamy, Delicate, Dried Narcissus…

March 5th, 2011 § 3

As Pretty Dried & Arranged in a Bowl on the Vanity as Fresh in the Flower Pot: Various Dried Narcissus

I’m the girl in back of the dining room; lingering with the last crumbs of her chocolate cake and bubbling prosecco. I like to draw my pleasure out; never leaving too soon. Of course, I feel the same way about about flowers. As the blossoms of my forced narcissus fade and wither, I snip them off and collect them in bags. Once dried, I like to arrange them in bowls and vases; scattering them here and there along tables, shelves and vanities in order to stretch out my enjoyment. Throw out my flowers? Oh, I hardly ever! Narcissus, lily of the valley, roses: many blossoms are as beautiful in dried arrangements as fresh…

Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ – Pretty Fresh or Dried

Lovely in a Vase Atop the Dresser

I’m Particularly Partial to the Look of Flowers in Bowls, and I Display Them on My Desk, Dinner Table, Dresser, Vanity & Book Shelves. Fresh & Floating or Delicate & Dried, I Think Flowers are Gorgeous Most Any Way. Never Let Go of Something Beautiful, Too Soon… Dried Narcissus are Pretty Pinned in Hair and on Packages too!

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First Hints of Spring…

February 21st, 2011 § 4

Last Year’s Nest Remains Intact, Decorated with the Pink-Tinted Buds of Viburnum Bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Spring is exactly one month away, and eagerly, the garden awaits her arrival. Already, swollen buds, glowing bark and the sing-song voices of chickadees calling “spring’s here”, fill trees and shrubs with new life…

On Warmer Days, Blushing Viburnum Buds Near the Stone Wall, Hint at Coming Spring

Click here to here listen to the ‘typical’ sweet, spring song of the Black-capped Chickadee {via Cornell Lab of Ornithology}.

{Forced branches give the house a prelude-to-spring. Click here for more information on forcing branches, and here for details about this lovely shrub: V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’}

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Seasonal Prelude: The Scent of Spring…

February 17th, 2011 § 2

Forced Blossoms: The Intoxicating Scent of Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’

Remember the fragrance of spring; warm air carrying the sweet perfume of new blossoms on the breeze? Distracted by day dreams of earth-scented pathways; chilly melt-water gurgling up from stone?  Finding yourself stalking the swollen buds of witch hazel, viburnum, azalea and other fragrant, flowering shrubs? Take heart, friends… She’s coming. The garden’s tender love letters are waiting for her; ready to burst open and unfold their sweet adoration… All for Spring.

Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ is one of the most exquisite scents of springtime. The sweet perfume of the blossoms fills my studio entryway with fresh fragrance…

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For a tutorial on how to force Narcissus (as shown in photos above), click here.

For a tutorial on how to force spring-blooming tree and shrub branches, click here.

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A Warm Wash of Fragrance: Dreaming Of Lilies and Sultry Summer Evenings…

February 5th, 2011 § 6

Dreaming of Warm Summer Nights and a Garden Filled with Softly Blushing Lilies…

Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet, Species or Hybrid: I’ve yet to meet a lily without falling in love. And while my weekend may be filled with practical matters —shoveling, clearing hoop-houses of snow, cleaning grow lights and sorting seed packets— there’s sure to be a certain amount of summer fantasy slipping in…

Soaking in Summer Fantasies…

Yes, I confess. Dozens of summer-blooming bulb catalogs drape the rim of my claw-foot tub, where —surrounded by bubbles and steam— I find myself lost for hours; conjuring sultry August evenings and heavy-scented-air, filled with the fragrance of Black Beauties, Brasilias, Casa Blancas and Salmon Stars. Oh, those deliciously intoxicating Oriental lilies… Could there be a more glamorous summer flower? I’ve found great prices on lilies (and other summer flowering bulbs & tubers, like Dahlias) at Dutch Gardens and a fantastic selection at Brent & Becky’s Bulbs online, and I will be ordering them early to get a jump on the crowd! For me, this will be a year of mass perennial and bulb planting. And I plan on adding great waves of lilies —both for cutting and enjoying in the garden— this year.

The Colors of a Summer Sunset (Lilium ‘Pretty in Pink’)

Cultural Notes for Lilies

When planning your springtime lily plantings, keep in mind that these perennial bulbs prefer to be planted deeply –in rich, well-drained soil. Most lilies require full sun, but like their roots cool. Companion planting with other lush, leafy perennials —and mulching with clean, fresh organic material— helps to shield roots from the heat of the sun’s mid-day rays. Lilies are fantastic flowers for attracting pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. However, lily leaf beetles (bright red nemesis of this gorgeous plant, and other flowers) can be a problem in some areas (emerging in March-June from debris surrounding lily plantings). I treat lily leaf beetle infestations organically with neem (targeted to lily foliage every 5-7 days when new growth and beetle larvae both emerge in spring).

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A Warm, Sweet Welcome for February: Forcing Narcissus Indoors…

February 1st, 2011 § 6

Hello February – Golden Greetings in the Entryway {Forced Narcissus}

A Bit of Golden Color to Brighten Stormy, Grey Days…

Welcome February…

It’s the first day of February, and outside my front door, snow is falling steadily and the sky is a gloomy, powder grey. Overnight, a winter storm swirled in, and the forecast warns of a wintry mix with more than two feet of new snow. For those of us living in northern climes, this can be a long, tough month. Dingy snowbanks, endless shoveling and bitter, cold days can take a toll on even the sunniest of dispositions. And much as I love the spare landscape, winter sports and cozy nights by the fire, I always crave a bit of bright color at this time of year.

Every fall, while ordering and planting my bulbs, I plan a little indoor extravaganza to help me through the long winter months. Many spring flowering bulbs can be forced indoors, bringing a bit of April’s garden to my world in February. Most bulbs require a cool, dark period prior to blooming in spring (exceptions to this rule include paper white narcissus, which may be purchased, planted and forced right away). And with a bit of planning, it’s possible to mimic those natural conditions and enjoy a little prelude to spring. I pot up left-over bulbs in all sorts of containers, water them well and cover with black plastic and an elastic band. Store potted bulbs in a cool dark place (a garage, basement, root cellar, outbuilding, etc), and check on them in about a month, watering enough to keep bulb roots moist, but never soggy. After 8-10 weeks, you can begin bringing the bulbs into your living space (cooler rooms are best). I like to bring them out in waves, saving the bulk of the show for the dreariest New England months: late February and early March.

Pre-Chilled Narcissus Grand Soleil d’Or and a Glass Bowl filled with Decorative Stone/Charcoal for Drainage.

But even if you haven’t planned ahead, you can still enjoy the pleasure of forced bulbs. Pre-chilled bulbs and paper white narcissus —purchased and potted up now— will begin to bloom in a month or two; ushering in spring a little earlier! With prepared bulbs, the forcing process is foreshortened, but the first few steps are quite similar. Practice this way, and next year, write yourself a forcing reminder for late fall. This is a fun project to share with kids, and a great make-your-own gift for Valentines Day, Passover or Easter. A pretty container will make the arrangement extra special, and it can be recycled after the blooms are spent. Remember not to expect bulbs forced in gravel to grow and bloom the following year. Compost these plants and start again next year, as you would with annuals in your outdoor containers.

Many garden centers, florist shops and online retailers offer pre-chilled bulbs and paper whites. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs has a fantastic selection (click here for link). Think of these bulbs as you would annuals: meant for growing and enjoying for this season only. Some good choices (among many) for forcing in gravel, include: Paperwhites, Grand Soleil d’Or (pictured above: produces sweetly fragrant flowers with golden petals and bright orange trumpets 6-8 weeks after planting), Angels in Water, Craigford and Chinese Sacred Lilies. Keep in mind that some narcissus —including the delightful miniature Tete a Tete— perform best when potted up in soil as opposed to gravel. When in doubt about how to force a particular cultivar, check with the retailer for advice on proper growing mediums/procedure. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is a great online resource.

Pre-Chilled Grand Soleil d’Or Settled into a glass container filled about 1/3 full with a base of pea stone and a few pieces of horticultural charcoal (for freshness).

How to Force Narcissus in Containers Filled with Gravel

Materials:

Bulbs specifically prepared for forcing (pre-chilled in a dark place) or paperwhites

Horticultural charcoal

Decorative pea stone, gravel, rocks or glass

A bowl or other container without drainage holes (glass is lovely if you like to look at the stone). Size will depend upon the type of bulbs you have chosen to grow. Using a deep container can be helpful in supporting taller bulbs.

Green wire plant supports for taller bulbs (available at florist or craft supply stores)

Instructions:

Wash the container and stones thoroughly and dry. Fill the base of the container with a small amount of decorative stone. Add a handful of charcoal bits and then fill the container about 1/3 full. Make planting space for bulbs, and nestle them in; packing them tight together for support. Add more decorative stone or glass until the bulbs are about 2/3 concealed (leave the ‘shoulder’ and green tips free). You can use all one kind of stone, or get creative and mix it up.

Fill a jug with lukewarm water and fill the container about 1/3 of the way up. You want the water at the roots, but not soaking the bulb itself. Eventually, the roots will extend down toward the base of the container. Even prepared bulbs grow best when given a bit of darkness (exception: paperwhites). Place the container in a basement or cool closet for 2-3 weeks, checking the water level every few days as the roots extend. IMPORTANT: Never let the roots dry out.

When watering, rumor has it that adding a bit of vodka or gin to the mix can assist with stronger stem and leaf growth. But keeping the bulbs in a cool, dark place (for a 2-3 week period before forcing) seems to work just as well if you lack a stocked liquor cabinet.

Forced bulbs last longest in cooler rooms. I keep mine near the entry way door, where they provide a cheerful welcome and never mind the drafts. If the stems begin to flop, it can be helpful to hold them up with green florists stakes and tape (discreetly position the supports toward the center of the container and pull up slightly – a bit of droop looks natural and relaxed). Be sure to keep thirsty bulbs well-watered but never swamped.

Enjoy!

Forced Narcissus Tete a Tete, Beside the Entryway Door

A Prelude to Spring

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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A Time for Gathering Friends & Family, Harvest Dinners & Giving Thanks…

November 25th, 2010 § 2

Happy Thanksgiving !

In this season of giving thanks, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for following The Gardener’s Eden. Thank you for  your many delightful comments and email correspondence, and thank you for sharing this site with your friends. I truly love hearing from you, both here on the site, and also on The Gardener’s Eden’s Facebook and Twitter pages. I am so grateful for the many wonderful, new friendships growing from this lovely garden online. It takes time and care to build friendships, just as it takes time and care to build gardens. Thank you for joining me here.

Thank you to Tim Geiss, friend, photographer and IT wiz-beyond-compare. Without you, Tim, this blog would not exist, and I am ever-grateful for your your technical expertise, assistance, and all of your generous help. And thank you for sharing your amazing photographs —many taken specifically for this site— throughout the year. I also want to thank John Miller at The Old School House Plantery, for your wonderful contributions as guest blogger, and Ted Dillard, for your fantastic photography tips and your recent article on Electric Gardening!

I’ve made some wonderful connections through The Gardener’s Eden over the past year and a half, and I am deeply grateful for those new friendships. Thank you to Guillermo at The Honeybee Conservancy, for your enthusiasm and encouragement over the past year -it has been a pleasure working with you. And thank you to Kristin Zimmerman. Kristin, I had so much fun working with you at Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety , and although I hope you are enjoying your new job, I want you to know that I am already missing you, your careful editing and our weekly email exchanges. And a great, big, heart-felt thank you to Stacey Hirvela and Miranda Van Gelder at Martha Stewart Living’s At Home in the Garden and Martha Stewart Living Magazine for extending a hand across this virtual, online gardening community. Thank you for opening the door to such unexpected and exciting opportunities.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a Lovely Holiday Weekend Everyone!

***

Article & Photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Festive Autumn Centerpieces from Garden to Table…

November 20th, 2010 § 4

Curious Dinner Companions: Dried Leaves of Sago Palm Add a Light, Golden Touch to Traditional Gourds and White Pumpkins

At long last, it seems that the season of feasts and festivities is finally upon us. And like many of you, I am looking for ways to bring the garden’s bounty to my dinner table: pumpkins, squash, carrots and potatoes from the root cellar; peas and berries from the freezer; and fresh greens and alpine strawberries from the hoop houses in my potager. But the garden offers endless delights for the eye as well as the taste buds, and I always like to dress up the house, holiday buffet, and even everyday place settings, with arrangements from the natural world.

From bittersweet-twined jars and low bowls filled with floating candles and cranberries, to luminous hurricane lamps surrounded by pinecones, crabapples and seedpods, I continue to bring a bit of nature’s beauty indoors throughout the late fall and winter. And in creating a few new festive, table-top scenes, it occurred to me that I should pull up some of last year’s photos and decorating ideas from the blog archive. Though many of us are living on tight budgets these days, with a little creativity, a beautiful centerpiece for the dinner table is always within reach. Autumn walks along riverbanks, train tracks and woodland paths last week revealed tangles of bright orange bittersweet, resin-tipped pinecones, bright red hollyberries and a jumble of seedpods amongst the tawny meadow grasses. Bring a bag or basket along next time you take a stroll through the park or walk the dog through the wastelands. You may be surprised and delighted by the natural curiosities you will find. And while it’s possible to spend a fortune on holiday decorations, I often find that bits of twine, recycled jars and old wine bottles topped with candles are just as pretty as more expensive ornaments.

Here are some free and inexpensive ideas from the archive, and you can bet there will be more to come! After all, I always find that getting ready for the party is half the fun!

Bittersweet Vines Wrap Around a Glass Jar to Create a Floating Candle Centerpiece

A Minimalist Centerpiece: Floating Cranberries and Candles in a Low Bowl

Gathered Pinecones and Crabapples Make a Festive and Elegant Centerpiece, Indoors or Out (shown here on a table near the entry to my studio)

Golden Amsonia shimmers in a hand-blown glass vase I brought home one year from Italy

Winterberry Holly Branches Fill an Old Urn (Ilex verticillata)

Ornamental grasses (like this Deschampsia flexuosa) catch the light beautifully, indoors as well as out

A Homemade Terrarium Filled with Native Plants (See more terrarium ideas and step-by-step tutorials here)

A Vase Filled with Dry Hydrangea Paniculata Dresses Up a Stack of Books at the Foot of the Stairs

See More Garden Remnant Ideas from the Archive By Clicking Here and Here Too!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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The Gilded Table: Shimmering Gold Garden Remnants Make Holiday Dinner Settings a Little Bit Glamorous…

November 15th, 2010 § 2

The Gilded Table – Golden Sago Palm Leaves by Candlelight

Gilded Pine Cones

Golden Sago Palm Leaves Shimmer and Glow by Candlelight

Candle lit dinners, cocktails by the fire and evenings spent with good friends; it seems like I will be spending less time in wellingtons and more time in high heels this month! Yes, it’s getting to be that time of year again, and my dance card is really beginning to fill up. I do love the holidays, and one of my favorite parts —beyond spending more time with the special people in my life— is the extra bit of shimmer and glow added to special occasions.

I like decorating for the holidays, and because I have a big garden —filled with interesting bits of this and that— I like to use what I have on hand to add a special touch to my home and dinner table at this time of year. Before snow flies, I always gather up remnants from my garden while I am working outside. I like to collect pinecones, seedpods, dried flowers, twigs or branches and other odds and ends from the beds, borders and surrounding forest.  I also save things from my indoor garden. One of my favorite potted plants, the sago palm (Cycas revoluta), occasionally tosses off leaves in spring and fall when I move it from indoors to out, and vice versa. For the past year or so, I’ve been saving those pretty, fern-like leaves in a box. They remind me a bit of ostrich feathers, and they seemed like the perfect choice for a bit of gilding with metallic paint. After spraying a few of the beautiful leaves with a soft shade of gold, I tried arranging them simply with a candle for a glamorous, but understated table setting…

Dried and Gilded Leaves of Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)

Isn’t it lovely? I think this would be pretty way to decorate a Thanksgiving dinner table, or for any occasion though out the winter holidays. At the moment, the sago palm leaves are definitely my gilded favorite -but I also like the look of gilded hydrangea, pinecones and many of the other dried bits and pieces I’ve tried. I used spray paint on my remnants (see tutorial below), but you could also brush the paint on by hand or dip cones into a pail or bucket…

How to Gild Garden Remnants

You will need: Dried garden remnants (see suggestions), pruners, newspaper, gloves, a mask, a well-ventilated work-space, spray paint (in gold, silver, bronze, copper, etc). Optional are: wire, wire cutters.

Start the project by collecting clean, dry remnants from outdoors or indoor garden spaces. Pinecones, palm leaves, dried leaves, seed pods, nuts, dried flower heads, shriveled berries and gourds all look beautiful when lightly gilded with gold paint.

Once you have collected a basket full of garden left-overs, bring them into a well-ventilated space. I work with paint in a studio equipped with a fan (and I also open doors and windows). You can use spray paint in a garage or cellar, or outdoors. Whatever you do, be sure to protect your clothes with an apron, your hands with gloves, your lungs with a mask and your floor or table with newspaper.

Spread everything out on newspaper and pick the remants over. Check your leaves over for spiders and bugs and send those little guys back where they came from. Be sure everything is completely dry and solid enough  to handle while painting and later, arranging. Clip off any wayward or unattractive pieces with pruning shears.

Select your spray paint (I like bronze, soft gold, copper, silver and pewter for gilding. I also like to use white spray paint on garden remnants and for even more drama, try black! Krylon manufactures acrylic spray paints which are a safer-health option, and more environmentally friendly. In the United States, CFCs are no longer used in aerosol spray paints of any kind). Shake the can well and test on a spot of paper. Then spray over the dried bits and pieces in a steady, fluid motion. It’s better to use several light layers of paint than one big, heavy, globby one.

Let the pieces dry for several minutes, then turn them over and do the other side. Some things —like pinecones for example— may need to be held up. Again, be sure your hands are protected with gloves, and grasp the cone with a bit of newspaper to hold temperamental bits steady. If you want to add more depth, use a couple of different shades of paint. white looks pretty with a light coat of silver, and brownish bronze looks nice with a bit of gold. I have seen “fuzzy” paints work well too. But keep in mind that just a touch of color often looks most elegant. You want to enhance the nooks and crannies on your garden remnants, but always let nature’s beauty stand out!

Once everything is well coated in paint, let your remnants dry out for an hour or until you can handle them without smudging paint on your hands. Then, gather things up and start playing with your table arrangements. You can wire things together or leave them loose. If you are going to add candles to the table setting, be sure they are always behind glass, (and, just as a reminder, of course open flames are never left untended -especially with small children and pets!).

Gilded leftovers from the garden make beautiful additions to wreaths, door swags, or in vases. In addition to all-gilded arrangements, try combining a bit of shimmer with evergreen boughs or fresh flowers, dried berries and fruit and/or vegetables. Fresh pumpkins, squash and gourds also look pretty with gilded items from the garden.

I like to reuse items from year to year, so I box them up and store them on shelves in my cellar. I have amassed quite a collection of pinecones, so I will be making a couple of gilded wreaths to give away as gifts. Because I’m always rearranging things, I like to leave my dried garden remnants loose when I store them in boxes, and I cushion the more fragile things with newspaper or bubble wrap.

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A Simple and Pretty Holiday Decoration from the Garden

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Musical Arrangements for the Vase… Autumn Rhythm and Lavender Mist

September 10th, 2010 § 3

Autumn Rhythm…

And Lavender Mist…

Harmonious late-summer floral arrangements in lavender and gold strike a rich and resonant chord on a grey September afternoon. Gathered from the woodland edges and surrounding meadow, gypsy wildflowers and late garden bloomers fill the house with vibrant color. Whether grouped together in a classic orchestra, jazzy duet, or soulful, solo performance, improvisational floral arrangements are music for the soul…

Solidago Solo…

Chords and Composition…

Texture and Feeling…

Gathering the Session Players, from Garden and Field…

Hitting the Right Notes and Improvising an Artful Composition…

Late Summer Arrangements for the Studio Vase, in a Slow and Soulful Mood…

** Click here to listen to Duke Ellington’s ‘Lady of the Lavender Mist’ via Myspace Music iLike (It’s a free sample – but wait for the loading delay. No need to click the ‘buy’ button)**

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Liner Notes and Album Credits…

Floral Players, from the top: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’, Viburnum setigerum, and wild Polygonum pensylvanicum (smart weed). Second photo: Playing ‘Lavender Mist’ – Verbena bonariensis, solo in a vase/pitcher by Aletha Soule. Third photo: Solidago in a solo act. Fourth photo: Rudbeckia hirta, with a Martin steel-string guitar. Fifth photo: Verbena bonariensis for an encore. Sixth photo: Audition shot with players from the garden and field, Rudbeckia hirta, Physocarpus opulifolius, Viburnum setigerum and wild Polygonum pensylvanicum (smart weed). Seventh photo: My old clarinet and Solidago in a sweet duet. Eighth photo: The players, together in a studio session. And last photo, the Lady of the Lavender Mist: Verbena bonariensis and a little link-love…

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Article and photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Limelight': Gorgeous Color & Fragrance in the Vase & Late Summer Beauty in the Garden…

August 27th, 2010 Comments Off

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in the studio – Beautiful color and fragrance

When it comes to romance in the garden, Hydrangea paniculata is never wishy-washy about where she stands. Voluptuous, lacy and fragrant; members of the panicled hydrangea clan are unabashedly feminine. Sometimes blushing and always glowing —the air about her buzzing with busy-bee suitors— my beautiful, chartreuse-tinted Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ overflows her boundaries; spilling into the walkway in a delightful disarray. She’s an old-fashioned bombshell, and I think she knows it. I love to gather her blossoms by the armful… Filling vases for my studio and dining room table, and a great, big urn for beside the bed. Although it’s hard to resist cutting every last bloom, I leave plenty to enjoy in the garden later; watching as they tint toward rose at the edge of summer, and then slowly bleach to flaxen blond in mid-winter…

Leather and Lace – Panicle Hydrangea and Copper Beech

But wait… Who is Hydrangea paniculata’s handsome mate? Well, opposites attract, of course. The dark and masculine, leather-leafed fellow standing beside our lacy-lady in the entry garden is…  None other than Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’; a decidedly Gothic-looking, European copper beech. Both partners in this passionate marriage are hardy in USDA zones 4-8. And while Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ will quickly attain a modest 6-10′ mature size, Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’ will continue to slowly stretch to 40′ or more —tall of course, as well as dark and handsome! Both plants prefer a relatively neutral, moist but well-drained soil, rich in organic material. Combined with late blooming blue-violet flowers, such as monkshood and asters, and a few tawny, vertical grasses, they make quite a fashionable pair in autumn…

A Gothic Love Affair – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ paired with Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, here in the entry garden at Ferncliff…

Unabashedly Romantic – Masculine and Feminine Extremes in the Garden

Still beautiful in the quiet season – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limlight’ in snow…

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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What Lies Beneath: Floating Flowers Submerged in Watery Glass Bubbles…

August 26th, 2010 § 1

A Bouquet of Floating Asters Submerged in a Glass Water Bowl

Sparkling August light sent me on a late afternoon trip to the potager, and suddenly my arms are overflowing with voluptuous, late summer blooms. The cutting garden is bursting with dahlias, salpiglossis, dianthus, bachelor buttons, and asters, asters, asters – everywhere! This week’s steady rain showers sent a number of  oversized blossoms crashing to the ground. A great way to use those shortened stems? Why not submerge them in glass bowls to create a dreamy water-bubble effect…

Glass and Water Reflect the Rich Hues of Late Summer

To get this look, I placed clear glass pebbles at the base of a globe vase, filled the bowl 3/4 full with water, then arranged the stems by forcing them deep within the hill of glass at the bottom of the vessel. No glass chips on hand? This look can also be achieved with a base of marbles (clear or colored) or river stones. Experiment with all kinds of cut flowers, foliage and fruit; from the beautifully bold to the delicate and small. Try this style of arrangement with round, square or cylindrical glass vessels. An obvious choice for celebration table settings, these floating flower bubbles can also add a dreamy water-nymph’s touch to an everyday bedside table or desk…


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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Midnight Maroon: Dark, Mysterious Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’…

August 13th, 2010 § 1

When you’re strange, no one remembers your name – Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’

Oxblood, maroon, deep violet and ebony; dark plants are one of my greatest horticultural passions. From the statuesque Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ gracing my Secret Garden, to the massive, dark cloud of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ forming a shadowy hedge at the back of my perennial borders, I wholeheartedly embrace the gothic beauty of black foliage. Earlier this year, in my posts, “A Heart of Darkness” and  “The Gothic Gourmet: Black Beauties and Dark Delights of the Potager”, I revealed a bit about my obsessive preoccupation with these strangely curious and hauntingly beautiful plants. But you needn’t be Edward Gorey to appreciate the darker side of horticulture. Deep, rich hues are incredibly useful in garden design; offering a counter-point to subtle silver and sophisticated chartreuse, as well as a striking contrast to variegated foliage and boldly colored flowers. Dark, elegant plants enrich a garden’s beauty  in much the same way as late afternoon shadows enhance a sun-drenched landscape. Think of them as the minor chords in your favorite song…

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ at the back of my casual, mixed meadow border in August

One of my favorite native plant cultivars, Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo’, (as well as cultivars ‘Center Glow’ and ‘Summer Wine’) is just such an endlessly versatile plant. Stunning as a single specimen within a mixed border, I like to take the drama up a notch in larger gardens, combining this burgundy-leafed shrub in groups of three or more to form a dark and mysterious backdrop for other plants (particularly gold and chartreuse-leaved specimens, as well as those with variegated foliage). Perennials in shades of blue, violet, gold, magenta —as well as many other bold and subtle colors— stand out against the intense, maroon-leafed ‘Diablo’. One of my favorite, striking garden combinations plays the nearly black color of Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo’ against the feathery, chartreuse leaves of Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold‘ (Golden elderberry).

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ forms a soft, dark cloud at the edge of my terrace

Physocarpus opulifolius (also known as common ninebark) is an extremely hardy shrub (USDA zones 2-8) native to North America. The dark, burgundy-leafed cultivar ‘Diablo’ (sometimes listed as ‘Monlo’ or ‘Diabolo’) will reach a height of 6-10 feet, with a similar spread. Physocarpus opulifolius presents a graceful, upright-vase shape in the garden, with softly arching branches. Adaptable to many garden situations, ‘Diablo’ offers dramatically dark foliage throughout the growing season, burnished shades of rust to bronze in autumn, and textural, peeling bark in winter. The pinkish white blossoms appear in late spring, and are a favorite, natural food source for honeybees and butterflies. Later in the season, as the tiny red fruits ripen —strangely beautiful against the dark foliage— common ninebark becomes a living feeding station for birds and small mammals. Physocarpus prefers even moisture and neutral, well-drained soil. This native cultivar is an easy to please, disease and pest resistant plant suitable for sun to partial shade (if worms/caterpillars become a problem in late spring, defoliating branches, treat the leaves with OMRI approved Btk only as necessary).

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ Leaf and Stem Coloration

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’s’ Beautiful, Peeling Bark

Autumn Color Variation Ranges from Oxblood Red

To Sun-Burnished Bronze…

In addition to its striking presence in the garden, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’s’ leaves and branches add sophisticated beauty to floral arrangements. When combined with citrus-colored flowers —such as the Bells of Ireland shown below in a vase by raku artist Richard Foye— ‘Diablo’ is a real knock-out. The sturdy stems also offer excellent support for more delicate flora, and a lovely vertical compliment to blowzy hydrangea blossoms — Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ is especially lovely with the maroon leaves of ‘Diablo’.

A vase by Richard Foye, filled with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo, Bells of Ireland, Baptisia foliage, Queen Anne’s Lace and Apricot- Hued Foxglove

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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August Abundance: Notes from the Kitchen Garden…

August 12th, 2010 § 3

My Summertime Kitchen

Mid August is always a busy month in the kitchen garden. Abundant cucumbers, summer squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and onions must be harvested and put up —frozen, dried, pickled and/or canned— at the peak of freshness. Late summer chores in the potager include watering —especially during this extended dry spell we are experiencing in New England— weeding, monitoring and managing pests, succession sowing for short-season fall crops, and of course, daily harvests. Some of my stand-out crops this year include cippolini and sweet onions, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, romanesco broccoli, arugula, cucumbers, and finally —after last season’s meager crop and fears about late blight— gorgeous, fruitful tomatoes. Read more about the highlighted crops by clicking on each to return to a previous blog-post.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to make notes for next year; jotting down harvest dates, this season’s plant successes and failures, troublesome pests and current plant family locations to assist you with next year’s crop rotation. Carrots look stunted or forked? Maybe it’s a good time to raise your beds, giving them more root-room. Lush growth in your garden but little or no produce? It could be time to test your soil pH and fertility. Plants petering out? Sow some quick turn-around crops like lettuce, arugula, beets, peas and beans for a fall harvest. If you live in a cold climate, now may be a good time to begin constructing hoop-houses to protect your crops from frost and extend the growing season (see post on hoop house construction here). If you are making your own compost, be sure to turn it regularly, keeping content balanced with layers of fresh ‘green’ kitchen scraps and pulled garden plants, dry (such as straw and paper) and brown (mature compost).

And busy as we gardeners tend to be in August, I like to slow myself down by pulling out the camera and taking a close look at the beautiful colors, textures and shapes in my late summer potager. Here are some highlights from my morning garden walk and daily harvest…

Romanesco Broccoli in the Potager

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes Ripening in the Garden

The Beautiful Edibles – Nasturtium and Pansies in the Potager

Ripening Butternut Squash Along the Kitchen Garden Fence

Cippolini Onions at Harvest

Yellow Summer Squash and Haricots Verts

Red Hot Chili Peppers in August

Morning Glories Along the Potager Fence

Orange Blossom and Early Girl Tomatoes in August

Basically Beautiful – Orange Blossom and Basil Salad

Garlic Harvest – Hard Neck Music, Continental & Doc’s German Garlic Drying on the Terrace

Haricots Verts, Calendula, Tomatoes, Arugula, Nasturtiums and Alpine Strawberries Bask in the Late Summer Sun

Blanching and Freezing Haricots Verts from the Kitchen Garden

Shiitake Mushrooms Harvested from the Mushroom Garden in my Forest (See Tutorial Post Here)

Ruby Red Chard in the Potager

Summertime Herb Harvest – Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Mint

An Armful of Fresh-Cut Flowers Makes for a Different Kind of Treat in the Jar

Late Summer Abundance in the Potager

Late Summer Chaos in My Kitchen (read about building this homemade kitchen island here)

Gourmet Potatoes, Chard, Cucumbers, and Nasturtiums in the Potager

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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I’ve Got Blooms on the Brain: Tips for Snipping & Clipping Fresh Cut Flowers…

June 27th, 2010 § 3

Fresh cut, country-casual flowers on the kitchen island. Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Is there anything sweeter than waking up to the scent of fresh flowers? I love setting a vase of blossoms beside my bed every evening, and my kitchen and dining room table are always dressed for dinner with a fresh bouquet. Of course growing your own flowers in a cutting garden —and in my case this is simply part of the vegetable patch— makes indulging in the luxury of fresh cut flowers easy and affordable throughout the growing season. Flowers make great companion plants for vegetables, attracting beneficial insects and sometimes –as is the case with many herbs– warding off pests. Sweet peas, lily of the valley, peonies and roses are probably my favorite cut flowers for fragrance, but I also adore stock, and pinks for their spicy clove-like scent. For bold color arrangements I grow zinnia, dahlia, marigold, cleome and sunflowers. To cool things down I plant plenty of classic blue-violet saliva, daisies, bachelor buttons, Bells of Ireland and Queen Anne’s lace for fresh-cut arrangements. And recently, exotic-looking painted tongue, (Salpiglossis), has become a favorite cut flower…

Rosa de rescht, Valeriana and Cotinus catch the light in a vase by Aletha Soule. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Of course, when the garden is looking a bit picked-over, I am never above taking cuttings from shrubs and trees to fill out a vase. Raspberry and other brambles, complete with fruit –as well as all kinds of vegetables– always add drama to table-top arrangements. And foliage, including ferns and ornamental grass, are beautiful both on their own, or when combined with flowers. Bare branches and drift wood, picked up on long walks, can also add structure and character to floral arrangements. I try to keep my eyes open and experiment with found-objects – including rusty junk!

For more fresh-cut arranging ideas – travel back to last summer’s article on flowers just for cutting here.

Helianthus ‘Autumn Beauty’ in my cutting garden…

Tips for long-lasting, beautiful, fresh-cut flower arrangements:

Harvesting:

1. Cut when it’s cool in the garden. The early morning, just as the sun is rising, is the best time. I carry a florist’s bucket into the garden with me and I harvest just after dawn.

2. Use clean, sharp pruners and/or rugged household shears.

3. Cut flower stems longer than you think you need in order to give yourself flexibility when arranging later.

4. Immediately place the flowers in water.

5. Strip the lower leaves from flower stalks. Anything that might go beneath the water should be removed now.

Zinnias – Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Conditioning and Preserving:

1. Recut stems and remove any leaves that might be submerged beneath the water. Remove any unsightly foliage or faded blooms. Check and remove tag along insects or slugs (eewww)!

2. Sear sappy stems –such as poppy, artemesisa, and hollyhock– with a match or by dipping in boiling water for 30 seconds.

3. Although some say it isn’t necessary, I have found that pounding woody stems with a hammer to help with uptake of water actually works.

4. Support delicate stems in the vase with branches or wire, or bind groups of flowers together with rubber bands, wire or twine.

5. I usually add a few drops of bleach and sugar (or some use an aspirin) to vase water. Some people prefer to buy fresh cut flower ‘food’, which simply alters the pH, holds down bacteria and provides sugars for metabolism. A bit of environmentally-sound bleach substitute, and sugar stirred into the vase water will accomplish the same thing.

6. Check vase water at least every other day and add or refresh water as necessary.

7. Try to place flowers in a cool spot. Avoid hot southwestern windows.

Dramatic Floating Dahlia – Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Arranging:

1. Be experimental and creative with vases. Start out by trying old soda bottles and tin cans, canning jars, milk bottles or cartons, teapots, glass bowls, desk accessories -anything that holds water. I like to hunt around in old foundations on my property for long-lost medicine and whisky bottles. I think recycled items add charm to flower arrangements.

2. Pay attention to proportion. Flowers rising two to three times the height of the vase is a good ratio to shoot for. But again, don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s a flower arrangement for heaven’s sake! It should be fun.

3. A single, dramatic vase or several vases filled with one kind of flower can make a space seem more dressed up. Clustered vases filled with informal ‘wild’ flowers grouped on vanities or consoles can make a room appear more casual.

4. Soften an arrangement of bold blossoms, such as sunflowers, by adding lacy flowers, ferns or ornamental grass.

5. Pair the mood of the flowers to the mood of the room. In general, I like sunflowers and zinnia in the kitchen, and roses beside the bed. But I don’t believe in hard and fast rules.

6. Keep the option of ‘floating’ blossoms in glass bowls in mind. And never underestimate the power of a single flower…

Dahlia in the cutting garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Bachelor Button (Centurea cyanus) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Painted Tongue (Salpiglossis) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Marigold (Calendula) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Dahlia in the cutting garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Zinnia ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Zinnia ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Dianthus in the cutting garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Audrey Hepburn with blooms on the brain – Photograph – Howell Conant

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Article and photographs, with noted exceptions, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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